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NSW police said volunteers who watched strip-searches didn't need working with children checks

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3/12/2019 Michael McGowan
a group of people standing next to a dog: Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

A senior New South Wales police officer said it wasn’t a “deal-breaker” if volunteers drafted to watch strip-searches conducted on minors at a music festival had not completed working with children checks.

And State Emergency Service volunteers drafted to act as independent support people for minors at the festival may not have known they were there to watch strip-searches be conducted.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission is conducting ongoing hearings into the potentially illegal strip-search of minors at the Lost City music festival, an under-18s event held in Sydney in February.

The inquiry is investigating the strip-searches of three boys aged 15, 16 and 17 at the festival, none of which found any illegal drugs, as well as the “general question” of how police exercise their strip-search powers in NSW.

It has previously heard police had arranged for two SES volunteers to act as independent support people during searches at the festival, a requirement when strip-searching a minor in NSW.

But on Tuesday the commission heard the SES volunteers may not have been aware they were required to watch strip-searches be conducted, and that a detective chief inspector who arranged their presence at the festival did not require them to have undergone working-with-children checks.

In emails between police and SES read out at the hearing, a detective chief inspector told an SES worker the volunteers would be required as support people for minors “that police need to interview” and not during strip-searches.

When the SES worker replied to ask the detective chief inspector whether it was necessary for the volunteers to hold working with children checks, he said it was “not a deal-breaker”.

“If they have those checks fine [but] they will be with police officers so it isn’t a deal-breaker,” the officer wrote.

The inquiry has previously heard that of the at least 30 strip-searches performed on minors at the festival, only five recorded that a support person was present.

On Monday it heard that one 15-year-old boy was told to “hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch” during a search, while an officer touched the testicles and buttocks of another 17-year-old during a search.

When the LECC’s chief commissioner Michael Adams, QC, questioned on Monday why SES volunteers were suitable support people a senior officer at the event said they were members of a “very reputable organisation”.

Adams replied: “Yes, but it’s not part of their ordinary duties to watch naked young people be searched by police.”

The state’s attorney general, Mark Speakman, admitted that strip-searches were “potentially very traumatising” and that police should use them “appropriately and carefully”.

“To strip-search someone is traumatising for the subjects they strip-search, particularly if they are children, so we want to make sure the balance is right,” Speakman said.

“We want to make sure the police and others clearly understand the law.”

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